The MM/TF Top 10 (and Then Some): Sci-Fi Movies

Gordon: With Moon about to rise in theaters, some of us at Movie Make-out and The Triple Feature got to talking about our favorite science fiction movies, and it turned into this purely subjective monstrosity. This top ten list is a combination of individual top 10s from myself, Trisha Lynn, and my two Triple Feature co-hosts Tom Brazelton (Theater Hopper) and Joe Dunn (Joe Loves Crappy Movies).

The popularity-contest aspect of lists from multiple critics inevitably results in low ranks for movies only one person listed and higher ranks for movies more than one person chose — so, before anybody gets all riled up at the high rank of a movie they don’t like, or the omission of a movie they love: We know. We get it. But we did our own list anyway, because they’re fun.

Rather than just give you the winners — which is, to be frank, just a run-down of rather familiar, popular movies — we thought we’d sweeten the pot by letting each of us pick a movie we wanted to make the list but didn’t. Our “honorable mentions,” as it were.…

Trisha Lynn: Before we start this hootenanny, guys, lemme just say that I think I came at this list from a very different perspective than the rest of you are because when I was in college, I took a course in sci-fi novels, and the way my professor Atara Stein taught the course was to take one specific theme that runs through many science fiction novels; the theme was of what it means to be human and how it manifests in the terms of artificial intelligence. It’s such a broad enough theme that it covered novels from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to He, She, and It and to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. We even watched the director’s cuts of Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Blade Runner in class (after having read the book for the latter, of course) and it is from this basis that I approached creating my top ten list and am arguing against the placement of the others.

The Movie Make-Out/Triple Feature Top Ten
Science Fiction Movies

10. Akira and Twelve Monkeys (tie)

12_monkeysJoe Dunn on Twelve Monkeys: One of the Gilliam masterpieces and the first film that made me look at Brad Pitt as something more than the latest Hollywood pretty boy. In my sophomore year of college I must have watched this film at least 50 times, putting it on by default as soon as I walked in the door. There’s just something so therapeutic about carnival music and Bruce Willis pounding some guy’s head in with a telephone.

Trisha Lynn on Twelve Monkeys: I love this movie, too, except unlike Joe, I have only seen it once and can never watch it again. The reason it’s not higher on my list is because it paints such a bleak picture of a humanity that despite all of its struggles to resolve the problem will cause it’s own destruction over and over again, and I can’t believe that someone finds that to be multiple-viewing material.

akiraTrisha Lynn on Akira: It makes sense in a way that out of all the anime films we could have chosen to be on this list, the one that made it to the top 10 was this one from 1988. The story is a little disjointed if you haven’t read the manga, but at the same time, it still carries you through a dystopian power struggle that at the heart is a story of how a lack of caring can cause hurts that exponentially radiate outwards. Plus, there are the great iconic visuals (the gigantic crumbling teddy bear always gives me the creeps) and a stunning soundtrack that is always worth a re-listen.

Gordon on Akira: Personally, I prefer Ghost in the Shell, but Akira is what started it all for me and anime and manga. Trisha Lynn is right that the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense without being at least a little familiar with the comics (it’s a very good adaptation of the first 1 1/2 volumes or so), but the visuals and the soundtrack set an awfully high standard for everything that came after it.

9. Brazil

brazilTrisha Lynn: Now, this is the Terry Gilliam film that I picked to be on this list because it is both more playful and just as deadly serious as Monkeys and it was my number 1 choice. The performances from every actor are just amazing (watch for Robert DeNiro in a surprising role) and a lot of what I found enjoyable about Catch 22 (the novel) I found to love all over again in Brazil the movie.

Gordon: Trisha Lynn placing Brazil in her top spot single-handedly secured it a place on the final top ten, because of the small number of contributors to our group list. I adore the film (although I’m partial to Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen), but honestly, I scratch my head as to whether or not it counts as science fiction.

8. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

khanTrisha Lynn: Never saw it. Do I have to hand my geek cred back in?

Gordon: Yes, you do. Star Trek II is an absolute classic — heck, it’s #8 on the Movie Make-out/Triple Feature Top Ten Science Fiction Movies List, so of course it’s great. Wrath of Khan is the perfect sequel for a TV-to-movie franchise like Trek: a logical follow-up to a story set up in one of the most well-regarded episodes of the original series (yet self-contained enough that you don’t need to know that).

Operating at a fraction of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture budget, director Nicholas Meyer took the best special effect of all — a fantastic script — and turned out an intense (dare I say it?) epic with no shortage of gravitas from a not-yet-self-parodying William Shatner and Khan himself, Ricardo Montalban. I especially love how the space combat in Wrath of Khan underscores how Star Trek’s ship-to-ship battles parallel naval combat, as opposed to Star Wars, which more closely paralleled aerial combat.

7. Empire Strikes Back

empireGordon: This was my number one. Don’t get me wrong: Star Wars is awesome. It’s technically ground-breaking, the music is spectacular, and it’s fun as all get-out, but… well, to the non-fifteen-year-old me, the characters all feel pretty much cardboard cut-outs. The old wizard, the loudmouth brat, the swaggering hired gun, etc. With Irvin Kershner at the helm, though, Empire Strikes Back brought depth of characterization and a real sense of drama to Star Wars trilogy.

Also: Boba Fett! BOBA FETT.

6. Wall·E

walleJoe: Somewhere George Lucas is kicking himself for not giving R2D2 a love interest.

Trisha Lynn: And yet, he still wouldn’t have been able to pull off the romance nearly half as well as Andrew Stanton did. I like that of the two characters, Eve is the brawn, while the part of me that loves the movie Hello Dolly! melts every time she hears a young Michael Crawford harmonize those last lines in “It Only Takes a Moment.” So many disparate elements, but they mixed together so well.

Tom Brazelton: From the moment it hit screens in 2008, I have maintained that Wall·E will be a vision of the future people will still be talking about 50 years from now.

Like Blade Runner, it paints an unflattering portrait of humanity and consumerism run amok. Having choked life from the planet Earth, they flee on giant star-cruisers, become over-reliant on technology and balloon into corpulent, dim-witted, socially siloed corporate commodities. Profound messages on environmental responsibilities, the importance of community and harsh criticism of the consumer culture follow. Wall·E’s message is the most subversive and effective of any film on this list.

5. Back to the Future

backtothefutureJoe: Back to the Future was my pick for number one. I won’t lie and say that a big part of that was the nostalgia of watching it endlessly in my Grandmother’s TV room and dreaming about what it would be like to travel through time in a car where the doors opened up instead of out. What’s great about BTTF though is that it holds up beyond the nostalgia as a great story with great characters for people new to the film as well as those of us that have been curling up with it for most of our lives. Introduce it to someone and they’ll love you for life. Just don’t tell them about part three.

Trisha Lynn: While I’ll agree that Back to the Future Part III is not a great science fiction movie (it’s more of a Western), I’d argue that the second movie’s a better pick than the first. Yes, the story was a little chaotic, but it really ratcheted up the negative aspects to messing with the time stream, and I still think it’s a shame they didn’t leave in the scene where AU!Biff started disintegrating.

Tom: Time travel is a sci-fi staple, but only the Back to the Future movies make it fun. Sure, they get a little sloppy with the timeline, but the series introduces a lot of interesting concepts. Now no one can think about altering the past without photographs from the future fading you out of existence!

Back to the Future II, for example, is amazing for what it predicted correctly – Watching multiple TV channels simultaneously, TV glasses, video conferencing… even a baseball team in Miami! (Source:

Gordon: I think Tom is forgetting about Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, which would’ve made my Top 20, almost undoubtedly. For some reason, the only thing I can think of saying about Back to the Future is that when I was a little kid and my family all went to see the movie, I opted to see Santa Claus: The Movie instead. Worst. Decision. Ever.

4. Aliens

aliensTrisha Lynn: I have a love/hate relationship with Aliens because my first boyfriend loved the whole concept of the drop ships so much that he convinced me to go with him on a ride called “Freefall” at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California, claiming that he loved that ride because to him, that’s what it would be like being in one of those ships. Taking that ride is where I learned—to my horror—that I have a fear of falling.

Joe: Just the idea of taking the deliciously terrifying beasts from Scott’s master piece and adding… wait for it… MORE of them has got to be one of the best ideas in sci-fi history.

Gordon: What I really love about Aliens as a sequel is that it explores a completely different idea that the original only hinted at — that all monsters come from somewhere. And if there’s one of them, there has to be a lot of them. I’ve always been curious just how Jim Cameron convinced the producers that one of the best horror movies of all time needed a flat-out action movie for a sequel. (I would guess the success of Terminator and his Rambo: First Blood Part 2 script probably had something to do with it.)

3. Star Wars

starwarsJoe: Between A New Hope and Empire my allegiance lies with Episode IV.  Reason being—it’s a complete adventure. Granted, the best parts of Empire are the things that make it an incomplete adventure but when I need to get my fix of light sabers and Wookies I always reach for New Hope.

Tom: I don’t know if I would call Star Wars a TRUE science fiction movie as much as I would call it an action/adventure film in a science fiction setting.
But Star Wars was a huge leap forward for the genre not only by proving that science fiction could be sequelized and profitable, but for ushering in the age of the blockbuster as well.

2. Blade Runner

blade_runnerTom: To me, probably the clearest example of sci-fi on the list. Distopian future? Check. Technology evolving beyond our control? Check. The philosophical ramifications of said technology? Check.

Blade Runner was a revelation to me because it promoted the idea that the future wasn’t a bright and shiny place. The future could still be dirty, disorganized and dangerous. With each passing year, the future looks more and more like Blade Runner and less and less like The Jetsons.

Gordon: Harrison Ford was on a roll in the early ’80s: Empire Strikes Back, Raiders, Blade Runner, Jedi, Temple of Doom, Witness and Mosquito Coast were all terrific movies. (Yes, I like Temple of Doom.) While Blade Runner was not a box office success at first, unlike the majority of those others, its status as a sci-fi classic is nigh-undisputed.

When the (much-improved) director’s cut hit theaters briefly, I dragged a friend of mine with the promise that if he didn’t like it, I would do a Spider-Man drawing for him. I still maintain that there is no possible way he didn’t, because it is genius, and that he just wanted the drawing from me. Which I never actually gave him. I am a bad person.

1. The Matrix

matrixGordon: The Matrix wasn’t actually the top choice of any of our lists—but it placed highly on several of the lists and easily secured our top slot. And while I had it considerably lower on my list, because I like my sci-fi darker and moodier, it’s a terrific, highly entertaining movie, to be sure. As a standalone movie, it holds up really well, but I always wondered how Jesus Superman Neo would go about freeing the slaves world from their robot overlords. Still, it’s really a shame that they never made any sequels to it. (La la la la la la la…)

Joe: Is there anyone in the world that wasn’t blown away by The Matrix when it was first released in 1999? I mean if it wasn’t the concept our world as a virtual program masking a living battery farm then it was the state of the art special effects and action sequences completely changing the way you think and look at movies. And if it was none of that then it was at least the Lady in Red.

Trisha Lynn: Can I just say that this didn’t make my list at all? There are other movies that handled the “What is humanity?” question with more gravitas and less mindless action, like the number two pick on the list. Not that I don’t like mindless action (I did enjoy the recent Wolverine movie, after all) but I say that just like a MacGuffin, if you’re going to introduce a theme in the first film, you’d better not fuck it up its resolution in the third one—which they did.

And yes, that means that I am judging this movie by how badly the entire trilogy of films performed because there are some awesome and amazing concepts in this franchise that I consider to be “true sci-fi” and those got thankfully explored in the the two-part “The Second Renaissance” short anime film that is part of The Animatrix. Just re-reading the synopsis on Wikipedia sends shivers down my spine all over again, remembering how skillfully director Mahiro Maeda was able to take the Wachowski brothers’ thoughts, combine them with familiar images of humanity’s own struggles against itself, and make us think about how as long as humankind rejects differences, we will never be able to progress as a people.

…And Then Some

Joe’s Pick: Galaxy Quest, the little movie that satirizes science fiction so well that it actually becomes it. Hell, it even does it better than at least a third of the Star Wars franchise. Quest is so clever and so fun that it proved Tim Allen’s worth as a leading man in a movie where he wasn’t playing Santa Claus.

Trisha Lynn’s Pick: Oh, come on! How in the world can you do a top science-fiction movies list and not include a film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the very first sci-fi novel? And though Young Frankenstein is really damn funny and DeNiro (again with the great roles!) was amazing in Kenneth Branagh’s version, I’m actually going to go with The Bride because (a) Sting was so freaking hot and (b) it made the book actually a little more understandable.

Gordon’s Pick: THX-1138 was George Lucas’s first feature film, and in a lot of ways — despite my love for Star Wars and American Graffiti — I think it’s the best movie he’s directed. It’s thought-provoking and an absolute treat for the eyes and ears. Some people find it boring, to be sure, but the shot framing, sound design and music make this movie practically hypnotic to me. Every time Lucas says he’s done with Star Wars — no really this time — and wants to get back to making small movies like THX, I want to scream, “GET ON WITH IT, MAN!”

(Tom didn’t get his pick to us in time for “press,” but we’ll add his in when we get it.)

Posted on June 12, 2009 at 10:38 by Gordon@MovieMakeout · Permalink
In: Opinion/Editorial

18 Responses

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  1. Written by Totz the Plaid
    on 2009-06-12 at 21:37

    I wouldn’t qualify “Brazil” as sci-fi, though it’s a brilliant movie. “The Matrix” doesn’t deserve the top spot, and “The Empire Strikes Back” is a much better movie than “Star Wars”. “Children of Men” should easily be on the list, but I’m too tired at the moment to properly arrange what my list would be, so that’ll have to wait.

  2. Written by connor
    on 2009-06-13 at 00:51

    I’m going to side with Joe when it comes to Star Wars. “The Empire Strikes Back” is probably a better movie overall, but “A New Hope” has always been a lot more fun for me to watch, and yes- it’s a complete adventure.

  3. Written by zachary
    on 2009-06-13 at 01:05

    why no Tarkovsky’s Stalker?
    By an far the most original and thought-provoking thing science fiction. And, like, actual thought. Not pretentious Philosophy-For-Dummies crap like The Matrix pulls and not empty heavyhanded propaganda with retardedly a idyllic ending like Wall-E (although Environmentalism and anti-consumerism is good, that movies was totally just really oppressively propaganda-like).

  4. Written by Trisha Lynn
    on 2009-06-13 at 08:38

    @Totz: Of course, I respectfully disagree because what about it isn’t science fiction? It’s set in a dystopian future where machines have become indispensable and asks questions about how and why becoming dependent upon these machines may be stripping ourselves of our humanity and compassion. What’s not “science-fictiony” enough about that?

  5. Written by Gordon McAlpin
    on 2009-06-13 at 17:12

    Totz: I agree with you about Matrix, Brazil and Empire, although since Children of Men didn’t make my top ten (barely!), I suppose I don’t agree with you about that. Perhaps if I saw it again, it would jump up a few places, but I’ve only seen it the once, when it was still in theaters. (It was in the top three of my Best of 2006 list on the Triple Feature.)

    Zachary: I much prefer Tarkovsky’s Solaris (which made my list, and would have been my second honorable mention pick) to Stalker. I enjoyed Stalker when I first saw it a month or so ago, but I don’t see it having the rewatchability of Solaris for me.

    I think you’re far too harsh on Wall•E, though. I don’t think of it as a “message movie” at all, let alone a heavy-handed one. Watch it again; the heart of the story is the characters.

    Trisha Lynn: For me, it’s because the dystopian “future” (is it ever stated that they’re in the future?) they live in is so utterly improbable and unrealistic — so far removed from the world as we know it — that it pushes Brazil into the fantasy genre.

  6. Written by Amelia
    on 2009-06-15 at 06:35

    No one even mentioned 2001? And while I completely agree about Tarkovsky’s Solaris, I also think that Metropolis would be on that list. Or now that I think about all the classics I love… Strange Encounters of the Third Kind? Oh! And ET?

  7. Written by Myrr Disparo
    on 2009-06-15 at 09:12

    Well, to tell you the truth, Aliens making the list, while Alien didn’t? That’s hard to understand. Although it could be because the original scared me for life at age 8, so nostalgia can certainly be a factor. And I didn’t think much of Aliens. I guess I like my sci-fi more quiet. Less shooty, more talky.
    On the other hand, 2001, a Space Oddisey doesn’t deserve a place on the list? Blasphemy! Grab the pitchforks! I kid, I kid, but still, it surprises me. Specially with Matrix up there. Being a philosophy major, I always found that movie… too ambitious. Of course, it didn’t help any the amount of people telling me: “But you should like it! It’s so philosophical! You like Blade Runner, don’t you?” Against that movie, well, it doesn’t hold up, I’m sorry.

  8. Written by Staatz
    on 2009-06-15 at 09:41

    Hay that’s a good list. I agree with Amelia, I’m surprised that 2001 wasn’t one the list- just because most people seem to hold it in high regard. Honestly though it’s the only movie that has ever put me to sleep, so maybe it hasn’t held up well? Maybe I should try watching it again.

    My list wouldn’t be a whole lot different… ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Batteries Not Included’ might be on there… or do those even count as science fiction?

  9. Written by indigo
    on 2009-06-15 at 11:21

    Clearly you’re working with a pretty broad definition of ‘Sci-Fi’ to be including movies like the Star Wars movies or Brazil, the former of which is better described as a ‘space adventure’, and the latter is more just a speculative fiction piece, with very little science or technology pertaining to the story.

    My own personal list would have to include Gattaca, The Abyss, Explorers, and The Philadelphia Experiment, among others. And I would also count Batteries Not Included as sci-fi, myself!

  10. Written by Amelia
    on 2009-06-15 at 13:20

    @Staatz- There is something that is absolutely overwhelming about 2001 on a big screen (or at least the biggest screen you can find, I myself watched it on my friends tv while she wasn’t home…Heh). However, there is something to be said about the unfamiliarity of the slower paced movies before the 80’s. Sometimes it’s a little jaunting about fast paced action in recent movies (Terminator Salvation for instance, my eyes couldn’t focus! Or the 2nd or 3rd Bourne movies which made me nauseated.) Certainly worth the watch if you can do it!

    Also despite the fact that there is nothing science or technology particularly relating to Star Wars… I would definitely consider it scifi.

  11. Written by Jack
    on 2009-06-15 at 20:43

    Am I the only one that didn’t like “The Matrix?” Like, at all? Also, I didn’t understand “Blade Runner.” I mean, I got the themes and understood what it was trying to say, I just literally didn’t understand what was going on from scene to scene. “Why are they doing that” “How did that happen” etc. etc…

  12. Written by Jacob
    on 2009-06-15 at 23:13

    Although I’ve got my own list (who doesn’t?), you guys have put together a pretty good one. Personally, I cared less about the actual ranking and more about what each of you thought of the individual films. If the four of you making another Top 10 list meant we’d get to see more genuinely interesting commentary like this, then I’ll be first in line to see it (figuratively speaking).

    And I loved the way you all played off of each other as a group; always felt the Triple Feature gang meshed really well, and Trisha fit right in. Any chance she’ll be showing up on the podcast any time soon?

  13. Written by Trisha Lynn
    on 2009-06-16 at 08:45

    @Jacob: We’re working on figuring that out right now, and it’s definitely something I’m interested in doing for mah man, Gordon.

  14. Written by Gordon
    on 2009-06-16 at 11:55

    More lists are definitely in the pipeline, but getting it all together is like wrangling cats. Maybe one every month or two?

    And for the record, I had Alien and Aliens tied (at #4, I think) on my list, because I cheat. :) But alas, no one else listed it. I guess Tom and Joe go for the action-adventure angle of Aliens more than the horror angle of Alien? Dunno.

    As for 2001, I have some issues with it, as a science nerd. I absolutely LOVE the Hal/Dave bits, and were the movie just that, it would probably be on my list. But I loathe the caveman stuff, which was horrible science even for the 1960’s, and the star baby stuff is pretty but utter nonsense without an external explanation. I prefer to think of it as him hallucinating as he slowly dies, which is really happy, I know. I think if I’d ever had the chance to see it in a 70mm screening, I might have enjoyed it more, though. It’s a beautifully shot movie.

    Trisha Lynn can call into the Triple Feature podcast anytime she wants! If she can catch Moon in the next week or so, we’d love to have her join us for Monday’s show.

  15. Written by Jacob
    on 2009-06-17 at 20:58

    One list every 1-2 months? That’s more than I would have even guessed. If you churn them out that frequently, I (and, I imagine, many others) would be more than satisfied.

    And I would definitely tune in to a “Quadruple Feature” special, despite the fact that that’s a terrible, terrible name.

  16. Written by Trisha Lynn
    on 2009-06-18 at 04:40

    @Jacob: Could you stand calling the “special” eps “Triple Feature, guest-starring Trisha Lynn”?

    *runs, ducks, hides*

  17. Written by Staatz
    on 2009-06-19 at 00:04

    I’d be neat to have a woman on the triple feature, though when you guys have had guests on in the past one or more of the guys go usually silent, though that happens sometimes anyway and there are lots of times when there are only two of you…

  18. Written by steve8714
    on 2009-06-26 at 07:35

    Why does no one mention “Battle beyond the stars”?, the rip-off of “The Magnificent Seven” which is a rip-off of “Seven Samurai? Just seeing John-Boy in space gets this on the list, as well as Robert Vaughn’s hilarious self-parody.
    And while we’re at it, where’s “Dark City”?

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